Mere Creatures of the State?

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This past Thursday, German police forces raided a private home at 8 o’clock in the morning and removed four children from their parents.  According to a report, “The children were taken to unknown locations. Officials ominously promised the parents that they would not be seeing their children ‘anytime soon.’” When the mother tried to hug her daughter goodbye, an officer elbowed her out of the way and added, “It’s too late for that.”

The parents’ crime?  They were sitting around a table, homeschooling their kids, ages 7-14.  The full story is horrifying.  German law requires families to send their children to state-sponsored schools, and the Wunderlich family refused to comply.  Is this an outrageous action on the part of the police?  If you think nothing like this could happen here, think again.  The U.S. Department of Justice is working to send a family seeking asylum in Tennessee back to Germany, where they would also face losing their children to the state for the same reason.  The Romeike family fled Germany for the U.S. specifically in order to homeschool their children, but this year the U.S. DOJ filed a brief in the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals, arguing that no one’s rights have been violated and opposing the Romeikes’ political asylum request.  Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but it is the position of the U.S. federal government that citizens have no right to homeschool.

This week also saw the publication in Slate of a story arguing that if you send your children to private school, you are a bad person.  The author of this poorly-argued piece states that she is not an education policy wonk, hasn’t read much, and attended a string of poor schools, from kindergarten through college.  It shows.  This is in the same vein as an ad for MSNBC earlier this year in which Melissa Harris-Perry argued that children belong to communities, not to their parents:

“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. “Your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility.” We haven’t had a very collective notion of “These are our children.” So part of it is that we have to break through our kind of private idea that “Kids belong to their parents” or “Kids belong to their families,” and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.   Once it’s everybody’s responsibility, and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.”

Can students get good educations in American public schools? Of course.  A great number of public school teachers are good and moral influences on their students.  The question is: should students have to get their education there?   In 1925, the U.S. Supreme Court said the answer to that question was no. The state of Oregon, in an effort led by members of the Ku Klux Klan, passed a law requiring every student in state to attend public schools. The Court’s Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary decision states that “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

The history of American education is not one of consistently growing public schooling.  It’s one of a variety of forms of schooling –home schools, private schools, tax-supported public schools, and other variations.  Even today, 2 million students have chosen to attend charter schools.  Another 2 million are homeschooled.  Millions more attend private schools.  This is all to the good; every child is unique and has specific, unique needs.  A story about former senator Phil Gramm captures the reason this is necessary and is in the best interest of children perfectly.  Gramm was on television with a defender of the education establishment. He said to her:

“My educational policies are based on the fact that I care more about my children than you do.”

The woman replied, “No, you don’t.”

Gramm’s response: “Okay: What are their names?”

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

Eric Wearne is an assistant professor of education at a college outside Atlanta, and teaches undergraduate courses on assessment. He also teaches literature at St. John Bosco Academy, a hybrid homeschool/private high school, and is a founding board member at Latin Academy Charter School, a startup middle school in Atlanta. Prior to joining the faculty, Eric served as Deputy Director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, where he helped design and conduct Georgia’s first statewide standardized testing audit. His work has been published by the Journal of School Choice, the Cato Institute, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He began his career as a high school English teacher, and is a convert to the Catholic faith. He also writes at www.ericwearne.com.

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